Planning an Industrial Internet of Things Device Interface Strategy

The potential of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to transform production operations is one of the hottest current topics in manufacturing. Along with related initiatives, such as Industrie 4.0, IT/OT convergence, and Smart Manufacturing, the IIoT is cited as an approach to make manufacturing production more flexible, cost effective, and responsive to changes in customer demand.

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) connects intelligent physical entities, such as sensors, devices,   machines, assets, and products, to each other, to internet services, and to applications. The architecture builds upon current and emerging technologies such as mobile and intelligearc_iot1nt devices, wired and wireless networks, cloud computing, Big Data, analytics, and visualization tools.

Migration toward the IIoT represents the next step in a connectivity revolution that has been taking place in manufacturing for several decades. The move toward incorporating COTS-based Ethernet and wireless technology continues, bringing the architectures of formerly isolated manufacturing operations and equipment closer to the IT world. COTS-based technologies are migrating deeper into the automation architecture; often displacing legacy, automation-specific, serial networks.

Manufacturers are encouraged to focus first on connecting the specific types of devices that are core to their schemes for specific operational and/or asset-management improvements, and then use that knowledge as the foundation to roll out a broader IIoT strategy. OEM machinery will most likely be one of the earliest and largest IIoT adopters. IIoT offers a significant value proposition in OEM machinery due to the ability to remotely monitor, diagnose, trouble-shoot, update, and cost-effectively manage this equipment. All these activities contribute to reducing downtime and maximizing machine performance, both of which are core value propositions driving interest in the IIoT.

Focus yoarc_iot2ur initial IIoT device strategy on the core control components of your operation, whether logic control (PLCs), motion control (PLCs, drives), or process control (DCSs), as well as HMI/ visualization. These are the areas that are most likely to initially interface to the IIoT. Strategies developed for accessing these devices can be extended to related components, such as I/O and sensors.

In the continuous process and, to a lesser extent, batch manufacturing industries, distributed control systems (DCSs) are the primary process automation systems applied. Each DCS can contain multiple controllers, HMIs, servers, sensors, and other devices, but our assumption is that DCSs will primarily interface with the IIoT at the system rather than component level.

The network infrastructure for interfacing connected devices is a flashpoint for IT/OT convergence. As industrial installations increasingly adopt Ethernet and wireless connectivity, control will be shared more and more between enterprise/IT and operations, and both entities will need to contribute to device-level IIoT strategies. This trend will accelerate with IIoT adoption as enterprise systems ranging from maintenance to Big Data and analytics increasingly need connectivity with industrial devices to achieve the desired performance improvements.

OEM machinery provides a good example of the need to begin standardizing both network and software interfaces as you begin to plan and implement your IIoT strategy. Most manufacturers purchase machinery from a variety of suppliers. In an IIoT context, this could ultimately result in a wide variety of vendor-specific interfaces being installed, resulting in added cost to maintain and update multiple installations. Instead, we advocate that manufacturers that are considering adopting connected devices and/or machines and, ultimately, the IIoT, focus on establishing their own internal, non-vendor-specific standards for network and software interfaces as new connected devices are acquired. Manufacturers are used to specifying the types of controllers used in these machines. Now, the specifications need to be extended to include network, software, and IIoT platform inter-faces as well as access control.

The following actions regarding IIoT-specific device interface strategies are recommended:

  • Manufacturers should develop strategies specific to devices they expect to connect to the IIoT, including with what other devices they will interact and how.
  • Manufacturers should drive their IIoT interface strategies from the perspective of the controllers whose functionality lies closest to their core business
  • Security and access control issues are paramount for manufacturers due to the widespread havoc they can wreak on operations, including the potential for personal injury or theft of intellectual property. Security issues can also negate the primary business benefit of connected device-based strategies by bringing down the very machinery, assets, or operations targeted for maximizing uptime.


About ARC Advisory Group: Founded in 1986, ARC Advisory Group is a Boston based leading technology research and advisory firm for industry and infrastructure.

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  1. Prasad M N

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